World-renowned rose breeder David Austin has been developing his wife’s wild garden into a colourful, scented idyll
Rose breeder par excellence David Austin has created a scented, colourful idyll in honour of his late wife.
Nestled at the end of a narrow lane in Shropshire is one of Britain’s most successful horticultural businesses, David Austin Roses. The gardens and nursery have been here for 48 years, and every summer hundreds of blooms burst into life, sharing their magnificent fragrance and colours of cream to apricot, yellow to deep red.
David Austin, or Mr A, as employees a≠ectionately call him, lives next door and, even in his nineties, is still very hands on with keeping the place in order. For the past eight years, he has been redesigning his private garden.
“My wife, Pat, used to look after it, but when she passed away, I took it on,” he says. Pat, an artist, liked the garden to be wild. “She loved it, but I secretly thought it was a bit of a mess,” he recalls with a grin.
The couple moved into the house that David’s father had owned, but had never inhabited, in around 1940. “It was a beautiful Queen Anne house with later additions; it deserved a moat, so I built one,” David says. “Then I planted the V-shaped hedge and left the rest to Pat.”
The world-renowned rose expert and experienced designer started to renovate the garden with the help of Carl Bennett, his head rose breeder. He kept the moat and made a stilted hedge by pruning the lower branches of a hornbeam to o≠er new vistas, with yew drums added to bring structure. In 2015, he planted the rose garden.
“I used surplus roses from the nursery, including ‘Desdemona’, ‘Buttercup’ and ‘The Poet’s Wife’,” he says. “I don’t have a favourite. When I started hybridising roses as
a schoolboy, I wanted to bring together the shape, fragrance and growth of Old Roses and the colour and repeat flowering of new ones. I learned by watching a lupin breeder.
“My father, a farmer, was unimpressed when I made rose breeding my career. Even I didn’t think the business would become as successful as it has done, though.”
On the grass path between two rose beds, gazing at the house, is a statue by Pat, of a lady carrying a basket of ducklings on her head, based on a woman they saw in Greece.
David’s final amendments were carried out early in 2017, with planting around the formal pond. Low-growing perennials with complementary colours, such as Heuchera
‘Black Beauty’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, Achillea ‘Moonshine’ and Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, were chosen.
Around the edge of the garden, the mature beds are filled with plants from his daughter Claire’s nursery. Here you will find perennials such as Acanthus spinosus and
Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ mingling happily with Rosa ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ and R. ‘Lady of Shallot’.
“I’ve been at this a long time, but there always seems to be more I want to do,” David says. Next on his list is a plan to open the garden to the public in 2018. We cannot wait.
David planted the rose garden in 2015, and used one of his favourite sculptures, by his wife, Pat, as a focal point.
ABOVE LEFT A stilted hornbeam hedge makes an eye-catching backdrop to one of the rose borders.
CLOCKWISE, FROM FAR LEFT The glowing pink blooms of Rosa ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’; R. ‘The Poet’s Wife’ has yellow cupped flowers and a fruity fragrance; repeat flowering R. ‘Scarborough Fair’; David Austin in his garden.
ABOVE AND RIGHT The formal pond is surrounded by new perennial planting, including heuchera, geum, geranium and euphorbia in shades of dark purple, peach and blue.
BELOW The tall spires of Acanthus spinosus add height to the border, which also features R. ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’.
ABOVE The mature beds feature blush pink Rosa ‘Wildeve’ and apricot-yellow R. ‘Lady of Shalott’ complemented by purple Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’.
LEFT AND BELOW Pretty pink R. ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’ and soft yellow R. ‘Charlotte’ sit happily alongside Allium
cristophii and Geranium x oxonianum.
OPPOSITE PAGE An old wrought-iron gate leads to the moat, which David constructed in the 1940s, but the drum yews are a recent addition.